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June 7, 2016





         This interview with Stephen Aarstol (see the link) is quite interesting, though not necessarily in a positive or inspiring way…


The lead statement immediately captured my attention: “You may be paying your employees for an eight-hour day, but the truth is most of them are doing about two-three hours of real work, and just taking all day to do it.” Continuing the thought, it is stated that “a ton of time is squandered” and “productivity is being faked.”

Interestingly, the solution for this highly dysfunctional business environment was to cut the employees workdays back to 5 hours. The challenge to the staff was, “With increased pressure to perform, employees had to teach themselves to be highly productive. If they couldn’t do it they would be fired…” The story goes on to demonstrate how the team accepted and rose to the challenge, and loved the results.

As I read through the interview, a single thought kept hitting me, how in the world did such a counter-productive business culture evolve? How could it come to the point where it was presumed that “most” of the employees were cheating the company out of 5 to 6 hours of productivity a day?

Of course, that thought was quickly replaced with several others. Where was the management team as this culture developed? How was it possible for there to be widespread faking of production records? Were performance reviews being regularly conducted, and if so, how was it that these people kept their jobs? How was it that the management team kept their jobs? How did the company even stay in business?

There is, of course no way to get to the bottom of those questions with regard to this company’s history. And, I’m certainly glad for them that they were able to turn it around and become the highly successful company they are today. However, I would like to consider some generic thoughts regarding caustic working environments that foster this type of widespread production loss and dishonest reporting.

I would like to believe that a company’s culture reflects the goals and expectations of its primary stakeholders and management team. Where there is a clearly communicated expectation of excellence, supported by a team of committed managers and leads, there will be a corresponding culture that is pervasively marked by excellence. For those who are unable or unwilling to perform to task, there are remedial steps that will be enacted to lead them up, or out.

It is also clear that a company’s stated culture must be aggressively nourished for it to be maintained long-term. For whatever reason, once the management begins to accept a downward slide in the ethics of any in their charge, the entire culture can become at risk. It could be that the overwhelming majority of the staff believes the culture’s goal of excellence and a fair working environment. Yet, they start to see the downward slide being left unaddressed, and then begin to become discouraged.

When such a slide is first recognized, there are a lot of questions and issues that must be faced. The first, and most primary is, “Who are we? This is a return to the beginning: the mission statement, the culture, and the resulting work environment. The hard questions follow, but none of those really matter without honestly facing the first.

Perhaps the key (if there even is such a thing) is a periodic gathering of the primary stakeholders, management with some key lead staff to consider this primary question afresh. Honestly address successes and failures and the means necessary to keep the culture fresh, true and inspired. If the actual prevailing culture is representative of the company, what is more important than its nourishment and maintenance? To the degree that it is not, what could be more important than addressing it?

Your thoughts?



is there a path back?

May 25, 2016




The tug of the familiar is always present, as are the memories of an earlier time. We connect with them in a much different way than we lived them…


The familiar was not always a comfortable place. It roughly intruded into my life, and forced itself upon me. I don’t really remember the struggle; I only remember that my resistance slowly became acceptance. It is now a safe place, where I know that I am always welcome. I find that I am reluctant to stray far, but I am somehow all right with that.

Nostalgia is a word we made up to distract ourselves from the present struggle. It provides us the means to look back safely on a time that was anything but safe as we experienced it. Those days were filled with uncertainty; we narrowly escaped them with our lives. Every bad choice we made led to another. We were learning as we went, but always the hard way. We can now laugh at these things, and derive a bit of needed courage from them, seeing that we did indeed survive them.

Although we experience a present sense of bearing from both the familiar and our nostalgic way of remembering earlier times, they are also personally limiting. They are made up of an uncertain alliance we have made with caution. That alliance is uncertain because there is no lasting friendship possible with caution. It offers simply a momentary suspension of time in order to force a decision on the next step.

We limit our possibilities, withdrawing into the familiar and building alliances with caution. Life is highly disruptive and laughs at our cautious ways. The path forward, however, doesn’t require throwing caution to the wind and forsaking the familiar. Caution is a tool in our hands, as we cut our way through unfamiliar terrain. What we have learned from the familiar assists us in our current struggle to understand our encounters along the way.

Although you and I are always feeling that slight tug upon us to settle in, is that really as safe a place as we imagine? We hear that gentle whisper to turn and retreat to earlier times, but is there really a path back? And even if there were, why would you want to go back there, seeing there is so much ahead?


heard any good stories lately?

March 11, 2016






A good storyteller will always capture you.

It is likely that you won’t even realize that it is happening. At some point during the monologue you shift from simply hearing and begin seeing, feeling and experiencing the tale. A connection is made that you are not fully aware of until the story is finished.

Possibly the most interesting aspect of the connection between the teller and the hearer is how we each contribute from our own experiences to the actual story. As the color of the sky is woven into the story, it is that striking, clear blue that has so often captured your eye, which you paint into the narrative. It is the lush green clover of your childhood experiences that covers the hills beyond. You have begun to discover the story together as each visual, sensual and emotional aspect of the scene unfolds. You are contributing as much to the story as the storyteller.

The story is new each time it is told, not because it has changed, but because it comes to life afresh only in the telling. Each person who hears, also sees, feels and contributes to its freshness. The storyteller senses that contribution, and incorporates that energy into the story that has been repeated so many times before. The story does not change, but it has been born one more time.

Storytelling has been called a rare art in its purest sense; an art that is expressed and given life and breath through gifted individuals. This may be true, but that is not the whole story. A story is given life only in the telling and hearing of it, as each infuse their unique life breath into its narrative.

I believe that this is what provides storytelling the ability to reach that deep place inside which seems to long for its touch. This is how even the simplest of stories capture us, and with mere words, incite our emotions and imagination to participate in its unfolding.

In the truest sense, we are all storytellers, though not necessarily gifted ones. It is out of the deep well of our life experiences that we learn how to communicate and connect with others. We share from this store of learned lessons, sights, sounds and sensations. We long to connect and experience together our individual worlds. However recluse one might tend to become, that longing never loses its grasp. In the honest expression of that longing is created community.

Have you heard any good stories lately?


February 23, 2016





Good afternoon, my name is James, and this is the box that used to confine me. You might be wondering why I still carry it around with me. Well, although I didn’t realize it then, as you can see, my box is quite small. This is where my story begins.

Earlier in my career, it was not at all uncommon for me to be drawn into risk assessment and creative brainstorming meetings. After a while I begin to notice that about midway through each of the meetings, someone would invariably say, “This is really important, and nothing we are coming up with is helping. We’ve got to start thinking out of the box to find a solution.”

Although I actively participated at least as much as everyone else, and usually came up with some pretty great ideas, this whole out-of-the-box thing began to weigh on me. What did it really mean? I started thinking, “How can I begin thinking outside of the box if I don’t even know what my box is?” That was it! I needed to study my box.

So, after carefully thinking it through, I realized “my box” was really just a metaphor that meant something like, “How I have been programed over time to consider, process and respond in the same way to the same stimuli.” That is, I have restricted the dimensions of my analytical and creative processes to a narrow furrow that stretches out before me in a straight line, or as some might call it, a rut.

I must apologize, though, as it seems I have inadvertently mixed my metaphors. We were speaking of boxes, not furrows. So, in returning, I think we can say that my box is really a box, with fixed dimensions, and there I was, comfortably sitting within it. We can also confirm that it has a lid. Everyone agrees that it is possible to poke your head out to look for solutions that cannot be found inside your box.

As I noted earlier, my box was pretty small. That was not a problem, though, as I was nice and comfy within it. Once I learned that I could peer out of it when necessary, I settled back and carried on as usual. That is, until my little box began to shrink.

In looking back, I now realize that every time I poked my head up to look for out-of-the-box solutions, it was not the box that shrank, it was me growing a little larger. This continued for some time, until I was finally so cramped that I concluded I could no longer stay in this box. I needed to build another one, a larger one.

I began construction, and of course, I used the materials from my little box to get started. This is when it happened. I found myself standing outside of the box looking down at it. I noticed it was made mostly of very sound, sturdy materials. Of course, there were weak points, especially where the sides fit together. But that is not really what struck me.

Where did we come up with the idea that we are all confined in our little boxes, or that these boxes serve us quite well until something really important confronted us? As I stood there, I thought, these so-called boxes were not designed to confine us; neither are they the fixed dimensions that really define us. They are constructed of ideas, truths, aspirations and experiences that over time, we have put to the test. They are substantial and sound, and the principles that we draw from them have aided us greatly as we have made our way down the path to growth and the process of maturation.

Is it not, then the metaphor that creates the conflict? Who wants to live tucked inside a box, even if it does have a lid? That sounds more like an end-of-life place to repose. What if we reconsider the concept of the box as really being that set of personal presuppositions (personal beliefs that I have come to accept as foundational) that can, but do not have to restrict my thoughts, vision, and imagination? Ah, yes, now we are getting somewhere.

There is nothing wrong with adopting personal presuppositions. They are the natural, healthy byproduct of living, learning and growing. Only when they are left to harden and encrust around us as barnacles do they become constricting. Rather, they are designed to form a living pathway to inspire aspirations of deeper understanding, and fresh, imaginative and creative applications of that understanding.

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So, here I am, standing beside my little box. It is a reminder to me that the path before me is overflowing with opportunities for growth. My understanding is being stretched beyond its limits daily, and my dreams and aspirations ride along a path that is refreshed daily.

Oh, yes, and now when I am prodded with that oft repeated line, “We’ve got to start thinking out of the box to find a solution”, I respond, “There is no box.”

building community

February 17, 2016





“If you build it, they might come. Those that do, might continue to come, but only if they like what you built. However, if you invite them to build it with you, some will come, then others, and others because they are sure to like what you are building together.”  -jb


super powers

February 3, 2016


“I am a discerning customer who considers most advertising to be misleading.

I am not a brand enthusiast, and only tolerate marketing when I deem it necessary to research products and services I am reviewing for purchase. I have no emotional connection with any specific manufacturers or branded providers. I resent being referred to as a consumer, and I resist all efforts to corral me into any form of herd conditioning. I am a skeptic.”

Somewhere, hidden deep inside each of us is this person, independent, intelligent, self-sufficient, self-confident, self-directed, self-absorbed, and untouchable. I want these core traits to be my shield against all who would attempt to manipulate me. I don’t really consciously desire to become that person, but when I see them display these super powers on screen or on the pages of my favorite novels, I somehow feel empowered, if only for the moment.

But are they really super powers? Well, no, they’re not. They are more learned defense mechanisms that we instinctively develop along our winding path. But, defense from what? We are put together in such a way that our decisions must be the result of the interaction of our mind, emotions, conscience, and will. That is, I must deliberate on the pertinent information presented, consider how I feel about it, have a sense of whether I’m comfortable with it, and then finally make a decision regarding it.

Any attempt to short-circuit this natural process is sensed as manipulation and a personal violation. My initial reaction is to reject such efforts. Although I am open to be led through my decision-making process, I am personally offended by attempts to manipulate me. Truth be told, however, I cannot begin to count the times I have succumbed to these manipulative tactics.

Therein lies the primary cause of our over-developed defense tactics. We either become highly suspect of any suggestion of being led along, or desensitized to even hearing the piper’s flute. Regardless, we lose a lot in the process. How so? In our reaction to these slips of judgment we are allowing our power of discernment to become hardened into disgruntled disbelief, and our preferences to become closed to only those tastes and experiences that we have already tried and proven. Our wills end up being routed, not by external manipulation, but by fear of its possibility.

Advertising and marketing, at their best is the presentation of a universe of options to be discovered, tried, and proven. Inherent in that presentation is a path that is designed to guide you into exercising your judgment as well as spark your imagination. The advertiser’s goal is to sell you on their offering, not trick you into falling for it.

You are confronted with these presentations a thousand times a day. Why not put to task some of your real super powers by paying closer attention to a few of the more popular advertising campaigns. Exercise your power of discernment to see if you can unpack how they are put together. How is basic information about their offering woven into the overall narrative? How and at what point is your emotional bias drawn in?

Can you discern a logical path that is leading you to make a decision regarding how you feel about the offering? Once you recognize it, do you feel that it was manipulative, or was it through engagement with your natural process of decision-making?

Effective advertising is designed to work with you by providing what you need to feel good about the decisions you make. The more you exercise critical discernment, the more you will be prepared to interact both with the message and the offer. You will also be far less likely to become disgruntled and closed to any hint of inspiration that may be found in the message. Pay attention, or as they say, “Pay the Piper.”

how to be heard in a crowded space

January 18, 2016

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You had this amazing idea of how to turn your passion into a viable business.

This is what you have dreamed of for as long as you can remember. You and your two equally passionate partners have been working night and day for close to a year preparing for your launch. It’s time to turn that passion into a marketing strategy. Where do you begin?

Consider what you have to say that’s worth hearing

  • That is, you must have an actual message to share before you begin to engage the public. The message is to provide information and create value perception centered in your core identity, your brand. The information you share tells a story that helps the public to understand who you are and what you have to offer.
  • Your story is much more than information, it is brought to life by the passion that first gave birth to your dream, and continues to energize you. You believe that message because it is real and true and what you are building with your own hands.
  • You either have something that is worth hearing, or you don’t have a dream, a story, or even a real identity. Your message taps into that true story and speaks directly to real

Consider your target audience

  • Your audience is composed of the universe of those who are most likely to resonate with your message. They are actually potential customers, however at this initial stage, it is more conducive to consider them an audience. It is far too easy to fall into the trap of simply targeting sales rather than building a core response base. It is also too easy simply to start hawking your goods, rather than sharing your message.
  • You will be targeting a core audience, which can simply be identified as having an established history of, or predisposition towards engaging with brands offering similar products and services as yours. If you truly know and understand the brand you are building, it won’t be difficult to identify and qualify your target audience.
  • When you connect with this audience, your initial goal is to involve them in your story, so that they catch a sight of your vision, integrity and passion. That is your value proposition, and it is what will build your business.

Those who are already listening to you should be spoken to directly

  • You already have a core following, or you wouldn’t have gotten this far. Hopefully, you have been sharing your story as your dream was taking shape, and you’ve seen that following grow with you. This is your core audience, and actually your most valuable resource. They already love your vision and want your brand to become successful. They will share your message because they know you live that message. They have already experienced your integrity and passion, and openly support its veracity.
  • You must always speak directly and personally to your core support. That core group will continue to grow as long as you demonstrate your support and honest appreciation of them.

Those closest to you are more likely to hear you than those at a distance

  • Locality should always be your highest priority when sharing your message. If your target audience has to travel 25 minutes to test your offerings, there is far less likelihood that you will draw many from that group. Although you may pull and retain some as periodic destination shoppers, your core support will be local.
  • This does not mean that you should neglect casting your net more widely. You should just be wise in how you allocate your advertising dollars.

Those who have the most in common with those who are listening should be spoken to in the same manner

  • Once you have proven and established your core, you are in a much better position to understand the most likely audience that really connects with what you have to offer. These “look-a-likes” may at this point be spoken to directly and personally in the same manner as your core audience. The only difference is that their message will have an invitational offer.

Those most likely to listen are more easily persuaded if addressed in a manner in which they are accustomed

  • This has to do as much with the style and tone of the messaging as it does the mix of media used to broadcast that message. There are those who prefer email or text, while others want printed direct mail, television, radio or newspaper. And, be sure to make social media one of your highest priorities. There is no medium you have available that can rival this close, personal connection to keep your message fresh and inviting. Once you know their preferences, be careful to manage your lists.

It is never about how loudly you speak

  • This again, has to do with the style and tone, but even more, with the frequency of your messaging.

Your messaging should be tailored to your audience, yet always consistent

  • Considering your audience’s demographics and psychographics should help you diversify the presentation of your message, however this diversity should never overshadow the consistency of your branding. Once you allow your brand’s consistency to suffer by your attempts to chase diversity in your advertising, your real message will be lost.
  • Always remember what gave rise to your dream and the passion that drove you forward, and the integrity that sustains you. That is your real message and your future. Lose track of those things, and you might as well just start hawking your goods to whomever you can grab.

Results are feedback to be used to fine-tune your message, target and goal

  • Analyze the results, don’t immortalize them. In the long term, each campaign brings you closer to understanding how better to move forward. In the short term, it is too easy to categorize results as wins or losses, and then move on to the next attempt. It is worth the extra time, effort and cost to analyze fully the results. That is, if you are open to learn and adjust your course as you move forward.

Consider what you have to say that’s worth hearing…

  • This is where you started, and this is where you have to return. You can never stray far from center without diluting your brand. Know who you are, be who you are, and unleash that energy in your message.